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Foothill League girls tennis preview: The league reloads

In an open field, West Ranch could be the best

Posted: September 21, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: September 21, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Valencia High junior Brigitta Benitez has stepped into the No. 1 singles spot for the Vikings this season.

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There have been a few sure things at the top of Foothill League girls tennis in recent history.

Hart’s Anne Susdorf would win the league singles title.

Valencia’s Clarice and Emily Fraczek would win the league doubles crown.

And Valencia would win at least a share of the Foothill League championship.

This year — things are different.

Susdorf and the Fraczek sisters are gone.

Same with West Ranch No. 1 singles player Ana Lucia Fuentes, who led the Wildcats to a share of the Foothill title last season.

Like before, West Ranch and Valencia are viewed as teams to beat. But unlike before, the story is who can rebuild fastest.

The Wildcats return talent at the top, with No. 1 singles player Ana Cecilia Fuentes and No. 1 doubles tandem Lena Poonnopatam and Gabrielle Morici.

But if the Vikings want to win another title, they’ll have to learn on the fly, as Valencia lost most of its co-championship squad.

Golden Valley will be led by the Ho sisters, Rachel and Rebecca, but will need to improve on the doubles side to compete for a team playoff spot.

Despite the loss of Susdorf, Hart returns talent of its own, as do Saugus and Canyon.

In 2011, the theme of the Foothill League will be parity, perhaps more than ever before.

“I think it’s up for grabs,” said Valencia head coach Annie Kellogg. “I think there are a lot of teams that are in contention.”

West Ranch Wildcats

To hear West Ranch head coach Eric Spiecker describe it, last season was “perfect” for the Wildcats.

The girls tennis team finished as co-champions of the Foothill League for the second straight season and entered the CIF-Southern Section Division III playoffs as the No. 1 seed for the first time. West Ranch made it to the semifinals before falling to Sage Hill High.

This year, the Wildcats have plenty of holes to fill, returning just four of their starters from last season. They still have Fuentes and the team of Poonnapatam and Morici, and with players like that, the Wildcats know what to expect.

Poonnapatam and Morici finished Foothill play 24-1 last season and 48-6 overall, becoming one of the best tandems in the league. The three sets the pair consistently won for the Wildcats went a long way in securing the team’s second straight co-Foothill League title.

The three have moved up from their No. 2 positions last season to the No. 1 spots in 2011. The true test of success for West Ranch, though, lies in which players step up to fill the No. 2 slots.

“What I need to think about is how do I fill Ana Cecilia at the two position and Lena and (Gabrielle) at the two,” Spiecker said.

Freshman Julia Lynch is tasked with that job on the singles side. Lynch will be one of the most intriguing freshmen to watch in the league, and if she can consistently win sets against opposing No. 2 and No. 3 players, the Wildcats should be poised to win their first outright league title in school history.

Valencia Vikings

At Valencia High School’s tennis court, there are team photos hanging up of each of the program’s Foothill League titles.
Valencia has won at least a share of the league title for nine straight seasons.

This year, the Vikings will be forced to rebuild quickly if they hope to go for 10.

The challenge for the 2011 edition of Valencia girls tennis is to play in the now, and not let the pressure of history get in the way.

“They’re just fighting. In the past it’s been tough for some of my teams because they didn’t want to be the team that stopped the streak,” Kellogg said. “I told the kids at the beginning, I don’t care about (the streak). If it’s meant to start over, it’s fine. You shouldn’t play with the pressure of years past.”

The Vikings return just two starters from their CIF-SS Div. III semifinalist squad of a year ago. Nonetheless, Valencia could compete for a league title once again.

This year, the Vikings will be a deep team, led by Brigitta Benitez on the singles side and Lindsey Bridges and Jennifer Miller on the doubles side.

However, they’ll have to deal with the loss of the talented Fraczek sisters, who became the first girls pairing in Valencia history to advance to the round of 16 at the CIF-Southern Section Individual Tennis Tournament.

Hart Indians

The Foothill League lost a lot of great players due to graduation in 2011.

Nobody, however, lost a more talented tennis player than the Indians.

Susdorf was the first girl to win three straight league singles titles in more than two decades, and she’s a loss the Indians won’t be able to fill.

But they know that already.

Instead, Hart will rely on a talented crop of players, led by Jackie Resler, to forge a new story on campus.

“I think (Resler) realizes that no one really can fill Anne’s spot,” said Hart head coach Chris Mansfield. “I think she is a very level-headed kid. Very, very dedicated, hard worker.”

And that’s a mentality Mansfield knows will help the Indians reload.

“It’s made all the difference this season,” he said. “That attitude is pervasive throughout the team this year.”

While the Indians should be solid on the singles side, the struggles for Hart could come in doubles play.

“My three singles are very strong and my No. 1 doubles is very strong,” Mansfield said. “The two and three doubles will make the difference for us.”

Golden Valley Grizzlies

The Grizzlies return all three of their singles starters and six starters overall.

Led by sisters Rachel and Rebecca Ho, Golden Valley should win plenty of singles sets.

The true test will come on the doubles side, where the Grizzlies, like Hart, have work to do if they want to challenge for the No. 3 spot in the Foothill League standings.

“The doubles is huge,” said head coach Josh Stimac. “That’s true of every team. You can have the greatest one-two-three punch in the world, but without that doubles side it’s hard to win.”

Leading that charge will be returning seniors Erica Kim and Elle Lauron, who will take the No. 1 doubles slot.

The duo, coupled with four other senior starters, will bring experience to the Grizzlies.

“I think so,” Stimac said. “With some of the seniors, I’ve seen less nerves. It’s huge. Some of the newer players hit great in practice and they tighten up in a match. It’s one thing to be a good hitter. It’s another thing to be a good match player.”

Even more important than experience, though, will be confidence.

The Grizzlies enter the 2011 season with perhaps the best singles player in the valley in Rebecca Ho, and they’ve opened the eyes of many around the Foothill League who think they will be the surprise of the league.

“Tennis is a sport that requires a lot of confidence to win,” Stimac said. “You have to step out on the court and believe you can win. Even when we play schools like West Ranch and Valencia, it’s important for us to go out and compete and pull away sets so we can post a good score against them.”

Saugus Centurions

Unlike many of the other teams around the Foothill League, the strength at Saugus High will be on the doubles side, where the Centurions return many of their doubles players to team with talented JV call-ups.

The loss of the No. 1 doubles team of Amanda Keller and Shelby Johnson will take its toll on the Centurions, but so far in preseason play, the No. 1 doubles tandem of Jessica Ta and Leaenne Ozaki has found success.

But things are still in flux at Saugus, where head coach Allan Hardbarger is trying to find the right mix of players to win matches in the Foothill League.

“We’ve been experimenting with lineups during the preseason, trying to find the best combination,” Hardbarger said. “But it’s hard to see if how they practice will translate into a match.”

On the singles side, the Centurions return No. 1 player Megann Soucy.

“(Megann) brings a lot of power, but she also has consistency and she can really play any type of game,” Hardbarger said. “It’s always important that your No. 1 can lead the team, because everyone really looks to her to win her sets, and she really sets the tone to win the match when she plays against other teams’ No. 1.”

If the Centurions hope to make a run for a playoff spot this year, it will be that experience that gets them over the hump.

“We’re going to try to make a big push this year,” Hardbarger said. “It’s always big when you have players that have played in big matches before. But when the match starts, anything goes and you’ve got to bring your game no matter who you’re playing against.”

Canyon Cowboys

The Cowboys were winless last season in Foothill League play and have their work cut out for them if they want to improve in the standings in 2011.

New head coach Annie Araujo has taken over and is trying to change what she sees as a culture of losing at Canyon.

If the mentality around the Cowboys is going to improve, it will have to do so behind the play of top returner Paulette Alonsagay.

The strength will be on the doubles side, where players like Alonsagay and sophomore Brooke Licon will help the Cowboys this season.

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